Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 06, 2014

Telehealth Being Used for Acute Care, More Research Needed

With the Affordable Care Act in full swing, the expectation that there will be a shortage of doctors to serve a growing population of insured has caused many who have acute ailments to turn to modern, more convenient ways of getting medical care for their issues.

Telehealth, or the use of health services via telecommunications technologies, is one way patients are keeping in touch with physicians and still getting care. This can involve phone, email conversations and in some cases a video conference session.

The use of these services was the focus of a recent study by RAND published in the February edition of the journal Health Affairs which uncovered a younger generation of patients with greater finances and no direct physician relationships as most likely to make use of this type of health service.

"The people who are attracted to this type of telemedicine may be a more technologically savvy group that has less time to obtain medical care through traditional settings," said Mehrotra, a RAND researcher and an associate professor at the Harvard Medical School.

The trend is not only making it easier for patients to get care from doctors, but it also offers a chance to look further into the prospects for growth in expanding healthcare without the need for more doctors.

For the specific study, which was conducted in California, telehealth services from Teladoc were observed between April 2012 and February 2013.

Teledoc offers its own managed provider network made up of board-certified and state-licensed doctors with an average of 15 years of practice. Users set-up an online account with medical history information and can request a physician consultation with a doctor who typically provides callback within 20-25 minutes.

Of the patients observed that chose teleservices, which was only a small portion of the group, acute ailments like respiratory illnesses and skin problems were the most commonly treated with no need for follow-ups or emergency visits after. Weekend use of the services and use by women in more affluent areas was also seen as a trend.

While there are a number of benefits to the uses of this technology for the future of medical care, there are still issues to be addressed.

The Oklahoma Medical Board recently ruled out the use of Skype as a means for visits between doctors and patients because it lacked HIPAA compliance.

Researchers at RAND also noted that currently more research is needed to validate this use of healthcare technology as the care given when someone is having a physical exam or diagnostic testing is run still trumps the possibility of mis-diagnosis and the need for return visits.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker
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